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BMS principal trial may go back to court

District can't challenge guilty verdicts, but aims to reduce settlements

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An appeal of a jury's conclusion that former Baldwin Middle School Principal James Brown inflicted emotional distress on a school dean and that the Baldwin School District retaliated against her was denied by a federal judge this month, but school officials were granted the right to a new trial in an effort to reduce the total of $5 million in damages.

"I think that this is reasonable solely on the issue of the amount of damages," said Rick Ostrove, an attorney representing Cheryl Farb, the former dean of students at the middle school, who was terminated in 2004 after she filed harassment complaints against Brown. But Ostrove defended the judge's decision to deny a new trial to challenge the guilty verdicts. "I think there was an overwhelming amount of evidence that [Farb] was retaliated against," he said, "and that Brown subjected her to infliction of emotional distress."

Last May, a federal jury found Brown guilty of intentional infliction of emotional distress, concluding that he made a series of inappropriate comments and created a hostile working environment for Farb, the middle school's first-ever dean of students. The jury determined that when Farb filed complaints with the Baldwin District Office beginning in December 2003, Brown's behavior continued.

Farb was terminated the following spring after the Board of Education found her claims to be "unsubstantiated," but the jury disagreed, finding the district guilty of retaliation. Farb was awarded a settlement of $4 million in emotional damages against the district and $1 million in punitive damages against Brown. Farb's husband, Harold, was awarded $250,000 for loss of consortium.

Harold Farb's award would not be at issue in a new trial, but a statute known as Title VII caps awards for compensatory damages — in this case, the district's retaliation — at $300,000. But because the judge ruled that Cheryl Farb's emotional distress could be attributed to both the district's retaliation and Brown's actions, Farb is entitled to $300,000 from each of them.

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